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Oregon is Ready to Get the Nation High 

Some progress at the state and federal level; locally, however, another denial

Oregon's weed industry has many enemies. From the Drug Enforcement Agency, to the U.S. Justice Department, to local-government hostiles who perpetuate reefer-madness myths, to an endless parade of complicated regulations and taxes; it's a scary world out there for pot proprietors.

click to enlarge WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons

But the biggest enemy may be a result of the sticky icky itself: Oversupply. Market analysts believe Oregon cannabis supply outpaces demand by double, meaning there is a surplus of 2.3 million pounds of marijuana from last year's harvest alone. Unfortunately, there is very little to be done—within the bounds of the law—to cure that problem. Marijuana's status as a Schedule 1 narcotic makes it verboten to smuggle the plant across state lines, even if the destination is California, Washington or Nevada—all states bordering Oregon that have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana.

Luckily, a progressive legislature in Salem is making sure Oregon will be poised to take advantage of nationwide demand, should the federal government come to its senses and legalize cannabis on the federal level. Earlier this month, the Oregon House passed SB 582, which creates a legal framework for marijuana licensees in Oregon to export marijuana to proprietors in other states where the plant is legal to possess, process and sell.

Gov. Kate Brown, always a vocal proponent of Oregon's marijuana industry, is poised to sign it into law, perhaps before you read these words.

The nuts and bolts of the law are, so far, pretty simple. The legislation authorizes the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to enact regulations to track and trace the export or import of marijuana upon a change in either federal law, or federal Department of Justice policy. Even a memorandum from the Justice Department "allowing or tolerating the interstate transfer of marijuana items between authorized marijuana-related businesses" would trigger the legislation.

That said, even the Cole Memorandum—the Obama-era DOJ memo that told the feds to stand down in the face of state law concerning marijuana businesses—expressly forbade the interstate transfer of marijuana items. Accordingly, don't expect anything short of a new U.S. president and an official Drug Enforcement Administration blessing to make Oregon the nation's Idaho potatoes of weed.

Marijuana scores its biggest congressional win ever

On June 20, Congress approved a rider within an appropriations bill for the 2020 fiscal year budget that would prohibit the federal government from interfering with the marijuana industry in states where recreational sale is legal. A bipartisan majority voted 267-165 to prevent the Department of Justice from enforcing parts of the Controlled Substances Act against Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado and the other states and federal territories where adult-use legislation has been passed.

This passage was probably seen as inevitable. A similar bill in 2015 came up just nine votes short, and in the four years hence, the number of states passing adult-use laws has doubled. This means far more congressional representatives have constituents who stand to benefit from less federal enforcement. It's a clear sign that, yes, state "laboratories of democracy" can, indeed, wag the federal dog and inch us closer to the end of prohibition.

Still, the rider may face doom in a Senate dominated by Republicans. (While 41 GOP members supported it, most House Republicans voted against the rider.)

More marijuana legislation is snaking its way through Washington, D.C., including a spending bill that would protect banks from enforcement by the feds if they work with cannabis companies, and bills giving veterans more access to cannabis medicine/counseling through the Veterans Administration.

Tumalo dispensary blocked ... for now

In a public hearing June 19, the Deschutes County Commissioners ratified a denial of a marijuana retail application proposed for Tumalo, with Commissioner Phil Henderson phoning into the meeting specifically to cast his voice-vote to adopt the denial. Commissioner Tony DeBone was clear in his opposition.

"I said my piece a few times," DeBone said. "I do not approve the way this document was written." Acting Chairperson Patti Adair voted with Henderson, as usual.

The denial centrally located itself to the problem of an easement dispute between the dispensary applicant and a neighbor—a disagreement they believed was headed for civil litigation. But the truth is that land-use officials don't typically opine on how they feel potential civil litigation would be resolved with respect to a conditional use ... unless morally objectionable devil's lettuce is weighing heavily on their conscience. The fact that Henderson telephoned in for this vote—and no others—speaks volumes.

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